Take my hands and let them be. . .

And when our hands grow weary, God, from working to reshape the hard clay of injustice–

Let the beauty of the Lord be upon us and prosper for us the work of our hands.

Psalm 90

A Prayer-poem seeking renewal

I sit on the front porch
With unclean hands

I come home from the grocery store
With unclean hands

I open the mail
With unclean hands

Create in me a clean heart O God
And renew a right spirit within me

Wash your hands—and your heart

A childhood question—“are your hands clean?”—has become Covid-19’s rallying call, at least at our house.

“Wash your hands,” is even the way Sheila ended each of our Lenten Front Porch Facebook Fellowships, and her and my reminders to each other to be hand-mindful echoes through our days.

“Sing pre-happy birthdays to everyone on your birthday greetings list.”

Pretend you are Dolly Parton and belt out the chorus to “Jolene.”

Whatever it takes, be sure to wash your hands—in a sustained and thus sustaining fashion.

I read somewhere that singing “Be Thou My Vision” meets the 20 second cleanliness requirement too, so I have tried singing that a few times too—because my goodness, we need Spirit-vision in these days.

Whose hands?

In these days of intensified hand-washing and hand-wringing, I find myself wondering: what about our hands? My hands. Your hands.

Whose hands will chip away falsehoods that hide God’s wisdom? Whose hands will paint the colors of God’s grace on our society’s landscape of terror and injustice and despair?

The gift of hands

Yes, I have noticed my hands during this pandemic—attended to them in detail—more than I ever have before. And I have given more thought to the wonders of human hands.

Hands that carry and care and clean and comfort.

Hands that plant and play guitar and pray to a creating and healing God.

Hands that bless and hands that break bread.

Hands that sometimes ache from work and worry.

Today, I celebrate my hands that I have washed and washed and washed again. I celebrate all of our hands. And I pray that the words of old hymn come to life within them:

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take our hands and let them move—

My prayer for today?

That God will give wisdom to our hands.

I also offer up prayer of gratitude for all the hands in our communities–

Gentle hands that have put Hello Kitty band aids on skinned knees. Arthritic hands that knit or build or garden through pain. Large hands that have held tiny hands as first steps were taken. Hands that set music free from pianos or organs or guitars. Hands that calm with a touch or write with a flair or feed with a fierce desire that none will go hungry.

A hand-blessing litany

From Isaiah 55–For you shall go out in joy,
And be led back in peace.
The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song.
And all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands.

Stars. Luminous. Incandescent.
Dancing with glee across the night sky
then fading into dawn’s unbounded stillness.
Sun-bursting chrysanthemums and fiery pumpkins
painting the world with colors of harvest.
Mountains singing. Trees clapping.

In the beauty of creation—
the hands of an artist.
Hands of an architect.
Hands of a musician.
The hands of God.

Artist God, give us hands of praise to worship you on this day.

Exodus 25 All the skillful women spun with their hands, and they brought what they had spun in blue and purple and crimson yarns and fine linens.

Weaver God, we celebrate the threads of color you stitch into our lives.
Teach our hands to spin out your grace and mercy in rainbow shades of promise.

Exodus 17. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so Aaron and Hur help up his hands, one on one side and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set.

And when our hands grow weary, God, from working to reshape the hard clay of injustice. . .

We praise you that you give us a community of friends—
hands to hold us up and keep us steady.

Jeremiah 18 Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so you are in my hand.

Too many hands in this world break and destroy.
We cry to you, Potter God. Redeem our hands.
Shape us as vessels of courage in the face of violence.
Give us hands that create and re-create.

Proverbs 31 She holds the spinning tools in her hands
And grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her hands
to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.

Give us hands that reach out.
Hands that chip away falsehoods.
Hands that serve.

Deuteronomy 2 For God blesses us in the work of our hands.

The work of our hands?
My hands?
Your hands?

All of our hands, beautiful and blessed by God to do God’s work of
love.

The hands of a farmer.
The hands of a teacher.
The hands of a child.
My hands. Your hands. The hands of God.

Psalm 24 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in the Lord’s holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts. . .

Artist God, give us clean hands and pure hearts for the living of these days.

Note: Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Sowing Kisses into the Breeze

I feel a kinship with Thomas. It is hard to connect to what we don’t encounter firsthand. 

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

John 20

She squats on the ground.
Bright eyes spotlight
the hose-dampened dirt.

What is it? I ask.
Without taking her eyes
off the hushful earth,

she cups her hands
and whispers a prayer
to the loamy sod—

“I hear the seeds growing.”
and she sows a kiss
into the breeze to me.

Thomas had his doubts

He wasn’t there in the upper room the first time the resurrected Jesus visited the disciples. We don’t know where he was. Running behind schedule? Suited up in mask and gloves and headed to the grocery store to get food for everyone?

Whatever the reason, Thomas missed the excitement. The shock. The surprise. 

Many of us can probably recall a time when we missed out on a big event. Have you been the one friend who couldn’t make it to another friend’s surprise birthday party? Have you ever you missed a wedding? Or a reunion or other life-marking event? Maybe you had to work on the appointed evening or you were out of town or you were caring for a family member. 

Whatever the reason, you missed the moment. The startle. The surprise. 

And because you missed the event, you could only connect to the moment second hand, at least at first.

Secondhand storytelling

It’s not easy being the one who wasn’t there when the storytelling starts and everyone who was there talks about what happened and how they felt and even how they were changed. That firsthand storytelling is powerful, full of emotion. And the stories connect the people who shared the event.

And Thomas? He missed the biggest event of all—Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance.

That’s why I feel for Thomas when I hear this resurrection story in John. He wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared, and he was skeptical when they told him a crucified human was alive again. Because of this, he has gotten a bad rap, forever dubbed the doubter. 

Doubting Thomas

The phrase itself even has a Wikipedia entry:

A doubting Thomas is a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience—a reference to the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles, until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.

Wikipedia

I feel a kinship with Thomas. It is hard to connect to what we don’t encounter firsthand.

Thomas wasn’t there. 

We weren’t either. 

Jesus rose up from the dead? He passed through locked doors into the upper room where they were sequestered? Christ is alive? 

Thomas had his doubts. And some of us struggle to believe—in God, ourselves, our communities—in anything. Too much evidence points against hope or peace. 

At the very least, we have misgivings about the story of love resurrected as it has been told to us. What does Jesus’ resurrection mean in a world where people face violence every day of their lives or where children don’t have access to enough food to eat?

And yet—yet.

Jesus responds to Thomas’ doubts by showing up again. 

I love this part of the story. 

Jesus comes back to the upper room, and Thomas gets a chance to experience what he had missed. I think Thomas’s doubt expands the story. Adds powerful details to the realness of Jesus’ presence. Reminds us that scars are part of a resurrected body. Jesus was and is connected to the most vulnerable parts of our humanity. 

Jesus passes through walls—in this Gospel story and in our lives and world. 

Thomas reaches out and passes through Jesus’ wounds. Thomas’ hand reaches into the broken places and another world opens up to him. He moves through a boundary. He sees beyond—

My Lord and my God.

Thomas in John 20

This year has stirred new thoughts for me about Thomas. He struggled to connect to stories about what he did not experience firsthand. 

I wonder if the Spring 2020 COVID-19 crisis will have this effect on our children’s children. They will hear from the “ancient ones”—us—about the year that even the schools closed down because of a novel virus. They can find more data and less anecdote in archived news sources. They will see in the historical record that these weeks of social distancing happened.

But their relationship to COVID-19 2020 will be different than that of those who waited in lines outside of Costco or those who searched the city for toilet paper or those who could not hold the hand of dying loved one. They will believe that it happened, but they won’t believe it like we do who are living it in this very moment.

History is like that. And communities have too often fallen short of remembering history in its fullness.

We have an opportunity right now to transform our communities by believing through our converted actions what we are encountering—that human life is all at the same time fragile and valuable and resilient. We have an opportunity right now to decide to carry that belief in our bodies and hearts in tangible Resurrection ways into an uncertain future.

And if we believe in Resurrection in these days by embodying a different and more life-sustaining way of living in the world—if we reach into wounded places and move across old boundaries—

—then our children’s children will—

Hmm….I guess we will have to wait and see and believe—

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.

Jesus in John 20